(I) Hilchot Beit Knesset: Siman 150-155

          Siman 150 Seifim 5

1. Citizens of a city can force one another to build a Bais HaKnesses and to purchase a Torah, Nevi’im and Kesuvim. (See above siman 55 if they can force one another to hire a minyan.)

2. The Bais HaKnesses must be built at the height of the city and if necessary its height should be raised so that it could be the tallest usable structure, to the exclusion of בירניות (some sort of decorative structure) or towers that have no functional use. If a building has a slanted roof that is not fit for use the house is measured to the top of the usable area. Therefore, if a house has an attic under such a roof the attic should not be higher than the Bais HaKnesses. In a pressing circumstance or if there is a government law that does not allow building a Bais HaKnesses according to halacha it is permitted to daven in a house even if there are residents who live on the second floor as long as the residents of the second story maintain a clean dwelling as will be explained at the end of siman 151.

3. There is an opinion that maintains that if one builds his house higher than the Bais HaKnesses he is forced to lower his house. (It is sufficient if even one corner of the Bais HaKnesses is higher than the other houses.)

4. Someone who builds near a Bais HaKnesses must distance himself more than the standard four amos since the Bais HaKnesses requires more light.

5. The entrance to the Bais HaKnesses should be opposite the direction that they daven. For example, if in that town they daven facing west the entrance should be on the east side of the building so that they can bow from the entrance towards the aron which is the direction they daven. The bimah is placed in the middle of the Bais HaKnesses so that the ba’al koreh could stand there during krias hatorah and everyone will be able to hear. The shaliach tzibbur should stand facing the aron kodesh. The seating arrangement is for the zekainim to sit facing the tzibbur and the rest of the tzibbur should sit in rows facing the aron kodesh and the zekainim.

          Siman 151 Seifim 12

1. While in a Bais HaKnesses or Bais HaMidrash one may not behave with lightheaded behavior, e.g. laughter, humor, idle chatter, nor may one eat or drink, groom oneself, or wander about. One may not enter when it is sunny to escape the sun or when it is raining to escape the rain. Torah scholars and their students may eat and drink in them when there is a strong necessity. Some maintain that in the Bais HaMidrash it is permitted even without a strong necessity. One may not make financial calculations unless they are mitzvah related, for example, the tzedakah fund or money for the redemption of captives. One may not eulogize in these places unless it is a eulogy for one of the city leaders when everyone will gather to eulogize. If one needs to enter these places for a personal need, e.g. to call someone, he should read a pasuk or repeat a teaching and then call his friend so that it does not appear as though one entered for personal reasons. If one does not know how to read a pasuk or study he should ask one of the children to read for him a pasuk or just wait a bit before exiting since sitting is also a mitzvah as the pasuk states, אשרי יושבי ביתך . (The amount of time to sit is the time it takes to walk “two doorways.) (According to the opinions quoted in siman 90 seif 20)

2. Some maintain that what was taught regarding the sanctity of a Bais HaMidrash refers to a community Bais HaMidrash similar to a Bais HaKnesses but if an individual establishes a place for Torah study in his home it does not have that much sanctity.

3. One may not sleep in a Bais HaKnesses even just a nap but in a Bais HaMidrash it is permitted.

4. It is permitted to eat and sleep in a Bais HaKnesses if it is for the needs of the Bais HaKnesses. For this reason it is permitted to sleep in the Bais HaKnesses Yom Kippur night. It is even permitted to eat in a Bais HaKnesses for another mitzvah, e.g. when people gather together to establish a leap year.

5. If a Bais HaKnesses has two entrances one should not enter one entrance to exit the other entrance and thereby shorten one’s path. If a path existed before the Bais HaKnesses was built it is permitted. Similarly, if one did not enter in the first place to shorten one’s walk it is permitted to exit the second entrance. If one enters to daven it is permitted for one who entered one entrance to exit through the other.

6. It is permitted to enter with one’s walking stick and different types of bags ( תרמילו ובאפנדתו ). Some prohibit entering with a long knife or exposed head.

7. It is permitted to spit as long as one rubs it out with one’s feet or if there is reed into which one can spit so it will not be visible.

8. If one has mud on his feet it is appropriate to wipe it off before entering to daven. It is also appropriate that one does not have on himself or his clothing any dirt.

9. We treat them with respect to clean them, לכבדן and to sprinkle water to settle the dirt, ולרבצן and there is a custom to kindle lights to give honor.

10. Even after it is destroyed it retains its sanctity and just as we treat it with respect while it stands so too it must be treated with respect after it is destroyed. If grass grows it is pulled out of the ground and left there to cause people distress so that when they see the grass they will become inspired and make an effort to rebuild it.

11. If a stipulation was made to permit mundane use of the Bais HaKnesses when it was constructed it is permitted to use it for mundane purposes after it is destroyed but while it is in use, the stipulation is ineffective. Even when it is destroyed the stipulation is ineffective for disrespectful activities, e.g. planting and making community financial calculations. When do these parameters apply, only concerning a Bais HaKnesses outside of Eretz Yisroel but a stipulation is completely ineffective for a Bais HaKnesses in Eretz Yisroel.

12. One must avoid using the attic that is above a Bais HaKnesses on a regular basis for disrespectful activities, e.g. sleeping. It is unclear whether one may use the attic for other activities. This applies to an established Bais HaKnesses which was built to be a Bais HaKnesses but it is permitted to sleep above a house that was designated as a Bais HaKnesses after it was built.

          Siman 152 Seif 1

1. A Bais HaKnesses may not be destroyed in order to build another Bais HaKnesses out of concern that something will happen and they will not build the new Bais HaKnesses. Rather the new Bais HaKnesses should be constructed first and then they may tear down the old Bais HaKnesses (even if they only want to tear down a single wall to expand the shul the same halacha applies).The restriction against tearing down an old Bais HaKnesses applies when the first one was still strong but if the foundation is faulty or if the walls are about to fall it may be torn down immediately and they should quickly begin to build the new Bais HaKnesses during the day and night out of concern that time will become pressing and it will remain destroyed. It is prohibited to take stones from the old Bais HaKnesses in order to build the new Bais HaKnesses and it is prohibited to destroy even part of a Bais HaKnesses unless it is done to build.

          Siman 153 Seifim 22

1. It is permitted to transform a Bais HaKnesses into a Bais HaMidrash but it is not permitted to transform a Bais HaMidrash into a Bais HaKnesses.

2. If the residents of a city sold a Bais HaKnesses they may use the money to purchase a תבה which is the place where the sefer Torah is stored or the shelf upon which the Torah is placed. If they sold the תבה they may use the proceeds for a Torah cover. If they sold a Torah cover they may purchase sefarim which are scrolls with individual books of the Torah as well as Nevi’im and Kesuvim. If they sold sefarim they may use the proceeds for a sefer Torah. It is prohibited to go in the reverse and use the money for something that is less sacred. Even if the money was used to purchase something more sacred the extra money may not be used for something less sacred.

3. A sefer Torah that has an error has the same level sanctity as a chumash.

4. There is a debate whether one can use money generated by the sale of a sacred object for another item at that same level.

5. If money was collected to construct a Bais HaKnesses or a Bais HaMidrash, or to purchase an aron, a Torah covering or a sefer Torah and they there is an interest to use the money for another purpose they may only redirect the money for a more sacred item. If they purchased the item for which the money was raised they may use the leftovers for whatever purpose they choose. If when they raise money they stipulated that they should be able to do as they want with the leftover money, even if they purchased something, sold it and then purchased another sacred item with some of the proceeds, it is permitted to use the leftover money for a less sacred item. If they did not stipulate when they first raised the money but stipulated when they sold the purchased item they may not use the left over money for a less sacred item. If they purchased with the raised money wood and stones, sanctity takes hold of these items and it is prohibited to redirect it other than for a more sacred purpose. If wood and stones were bought for the construction of a Bais HaKnesses and they were given to the treasurer it may only be redirected to a more sacred purpose but if the items were not given to the treasurer they may be changed, however, one may not take back the items.

6. It is permitted to sell a Bais HaKnesses or any other sacred item, including a sefer Torah to provide the needs of students studying Torah or to marry off orphans with the money.

7. The allowance to sell a Bais HaKnesses is limited to one in a village that is not used by people from other places and was built for the residents of that village (even if it was built from the money of others) and such a Bais HaKnesses may be sold. However, the money that is generated remains sacred and may not be used for a less sacred use. This ruling is limited to where it was sold without consent from the “leaders” of the community or if it was sold with the consent of the trustees but not in the presence of the residents of the village. If it was sold with the consent of the trustees and in the presence of the residents they may use the money for whatever purpose they choose. If the residents explicitly agreed to do submit to the authority of another, even an individual, it is binding. Anytime the trustees sell it publicly it is considered as though it was sold in the presence of the residents of the city and it is unnecessary to secure their explicit approval or disapproval.  If an individual builds a Bais HaKnesses and gives it to the tzibbur it is treated like a Bais HaKnesses that belongs to the tzibbur but if he retained some ownership for himself it may not be sold without the permission of the tzibbur and the donor or his heirs. This discussion is limited to where there is another Bais HaKnesses but if there is no other Bais HaKnesses it is prohibited to sell since it is even prohibited to tear down a Bais HaKnesses until a new one is built. Any sacred item that is sold with the proceeds being redirected for another use may be sold without announcing that it is for sale and is not subject to the halachos of ona’ah. Something that may not be redirected towards a less severe sanctity must be announced before it is sold.

8. A house that was built without designation and afterwards was sanctified as a Bais HaKnesses is bound by the halachos of a Bais HaKnesses but it is not sanctified until they daven there even if construction was done to make it into a Bais HaKnesses. Once davening takes place there, even if by guests temporarily, it becomes sanctified as a Bais HaKnesses since it was designated for tefila. If the sanctity was not intended to be permanent its sanctity depends upon what was stipulated.

9. When villagers sell a Bais haKnesses the sale may be absolute and the buyer may do with the building as he chooses except for making it into a bathhouse, tannery, mikvah or a bathroom. If it was sold by the seven trustees in the presence of the members of the community the buyer may do with it as he wishes, even to make it into one of these four things.

10. Some maintain that an individual who sells his own sacred items, even a sefer Torah, may use the money for whatever he wishes as long as the sefer Torah was not designated to be read by the community. Another opinion prohibits this unless it is to support Torah study or to marry a woman.

11. A Bais HaKnesses, or stones and wood from an old Bais HaKnesses that was torn down may be given away as a gift since if one would not have received some sort of benefit it would not be given as a gift and thus it is considered a sale. Similarly, these items may be exchanged for others and the old ones become deconsecrated. These items may not be used as security, or rented or lent to others even with the agreement of the seven trustees since they will retain their sanctity being that there is nothing else that will take over the sanctity. This limitation applies when the loan will cause the sacred item to be lowered from its present level of sanctity but it is permitted to loan a sefer Torah to be used for Torah reading, even a Torah owned by a community that will be lent to an individual.

12. Someone who has an agreement with the community that only he or his descendants may construct a Bais HaKnesses may not sell that right to someone else.

13. If money was raised for a Bais HaKnesses and a mitzvah opportunity presented itself, they may used the raised funds for that mitzvah. If they purchased stones and beams they should not be sold for any mitzvah other than redeeming captives. Even if the stones and beams were prepared for construction they may be sold only for redemption of captives. If the Bais HaKnesses was built and completed it should not be sold; rather they should raise separate funds from the tzibbur to redeem the captives.

14. If Reuven declares that he is donating land for the construction of a Bais HaKnesses and the idolaters did not permit its construction so the community decides to build a Talmud Torah but Reuven claims that this purpose is not consistent with his vow, Reuven may not retract his pledge. If Reuven is not a citizen they may redirect the land for another purpose but if he is a citizen they may not redirect its purpose if he screams in protest unless there is a Torah scholar to whom everyone submits his authority (and the seven trustees have the same status as the Torah authority.)

15. A person may not prohibit his portion of a Bais HaKnesses or the sefarim and if he does so it has no effect.

16. If someone lends his house to be used as a Bais HaKnesses and he later gets into a fight with someone from the community he cannot prohibit his house to him unless he prohibits the entire tzibbur from benefitting from his house. This ruling applies when he lent them his house without specification. However, if he stipulated that he should be able to protest when he wants or if he did not formally lend them his house but merely allowed them to enter he has the right to protest against whomever he wishes.

17. If someone had a Bais HaKnesses in his house for a long period of time the tzibbur may not move to another house.

18. There is an opinion that maintains that sacred silver ornaments that are brought to the Bais HaKnesses for the chagim may not be removed and sold as unconsecrated utensils and the tzibbur may retain them so that they should remain in the possession of hekdesh after the donor passes away.

19. There is an opinion that maintains that if a note saying that someone who passed away consecrated a utensil it is considered sacred even though there are no witnesses to this declaration and it was never given to the tzibbur.

20. There is an opinion that maintains that if a sefer Torah was assumed to belong to Reuven’s ancestors the tzibbur may not take ownership of it.

21. Material that had been used for non-sacred purposes should not be purchased for use for sacred items. A zonah’s payment or the exchange for a dog may not be used for a mitzvah, e.g. a Bais HaKnesses or a sefer Torah. The restriction applies to the object received as payment but if she received money as payment that money may be used for a mitzvah. It is categorized as zonah only if there was an ervah prohibition but it is permitted to take items from unmarried harlots.

22. Someone who is accustomed to fulfilling a particular mitzvah, for example, gelilah, and experiences an ones or poverty and the tzibbur gave the mitzvah to someone else but later regained his wealth and wants the privilege of the mitzvah back – if when the tzibbur gave the mitzvah to the replacement the original person had the ability to pay his obligations but chose not to and he agreed with the rest of the tzibbur to find a replacement he has lost his claim to the mitzvah. If when he was replaced he did not have the means to pay his obligations and now that he has the means to fulfill his obligations he wants to pay his obligations and resume fulfillment of the mitzvah, he returns to his original position.

          Siman 154 Seifim 15

1. Even though the tzibbur davens in the town square on fast days, it is not sanctified since it is only temporary. Similarly, houses and courtyards in which people gather to daven occasionally (meaning due to special circumstances but not regularly) are not sanctified.

2. If a house is rented for davening it does not acquire the halachic status of a Bais HaKnesses.

3. Accessories of a sacred item, for example, the container for the sefer Torah, mezuzos, tefillin straps, the case in which a sefer Torah or chumash is stored or the chair upon which the sefer Torah rests, the curtains that hang in front of the heichal are sacred and must be buried. It is only those items in which sacred items are placed or if they are made to give honor to the sacred item, e.g. the cover that is on the boards of a sefer but a cover that is made to protect the cover that is on the sefer is not called an accessory, rather it is an accessory to an accessory and the same applies to all similar items. Some authorities maintain that to be considered an aron kodesh it must be a chest that is made to give honor to the Torah but an aron that is built into the wall for protection is not considered an accessory of a sacred item. Certainly if the sefarim become ruined as a result of being in a container it is permitted to take them from there. It is prohibited to launder the covering of a sefer Torah in urine out of respect.

4. Worn out sefer Torah coverings may be made into shrouds for a מת מצוה and this is the correct manner for its burial.

5. If a sefer Torah becomes worn out it should be placed in an earthenware utensil and buried in the grave of a Torah scholar, even one who only studied halacha but did not serve Torah scholars.

6. It is prohibited to make the teivah into a chair for a sefer Torah but it is permitted to make a small teivah from a large teivah. It is also permitted to make a small chair from a larger chair but it is prohibited to make a שרפרף . It is also permitted to make a small curtain from a large curtain or to make a cover for a sefer Torah but it is prohibited to make from it a cover for a chumash. The paroches that we hang in front of the aron kodesh possesses no sanctity other than the sanctity of a Bais HaKnesses. The poles from which the paroches hang fall into the same category but they may not be made into markers that point to where the day’s krias hatorah will begin which are not as sacred.

7. A bimah (meaning a high place), for example, the platform they make for the king, has the sanctity of a Bais HaKnesses rather than the sanctity of an aron kodesh.

8. Regarding the aron kodesh and other items made for a sefer Torah it is acceptable to stipulate that one should be able to use it for other purposes, even non-sacred ones. The custom is to derive benefit from sacred items, e.g. the covering for seferim, the shulchan, the wrapping of a sefer Torah. The reason, it was suggested, was that since people are doing it anyway and it is impossible to avoid benefit from these items it is considered as though Bais Din stipulated that they may be used so that people do not violate the restrictions. Even if a stipulation was not made it is considered as though it was stipulated.

9. Those who donate a sefer Torah and leave the covering in the Bais HaKnesses, it is permitted to use that covering for any sefer Torah since that was his intent when he donated it. If they were stored in their home and then they sanctified them they may not be used for another sefer Torah since it was designated and used for that sefer Torah. Some authorities permit its use with other sifrei Torah (and this is the custom since Bais Din stipulates that this should be permitted.)

10. It is unnecessary to protest those who place the crown of a sefer Torah on the one who finishes the Torah but it is necessary to protest those who place it on the heads of grooms.

11. Wax candles that were given by a Cuthean to idolaters and after their attendant extinguished the flame he gave it or sold it to a Jew, those candles may not be lit in the Bais HaKnesses even though it may be used for mundane purposes. It is prohibited to kindle wax or a lamp donated to a Bais HaKnesses by someone who is a mumar for idolatry, see Yoreh Deah siman 139 and 254 for more about these halachos.

12. If a mouse is found in the oil of the Bais HaKnesses and as a result it is repulsive the oil may not be used for in the Bais HaKnesses.

13. It is permitted to read by the light of the Bais HaKnesses.

14. It is prohibited to kindle a private flame from the flame in the Bais HaKnesses. In the opinion of one authority this restriction applies when the flame is fulfilling a mitzvah but once it is time to extinguish the flame it is permitted. Nevertheless, the custom is that people are not particular about this and they light a flame for private use when there is a great need. It is also possible that there is a stipulation of Bais Din that permits this and the same rationale applies to all those things from which people customarily benefit from sacred objects.ed to read by the light of the Bais HaKnesses.

15. If the citizens of a city purchased a sefer Torah and stipulated that if a citizen moves away they will repay him his portion and the value of the sefer Torah increases the person only receives back what he originally donated.

          Siman 155 Seifim 2

1. After leaving the Bais HaKnesses one should go to the Bais HaMidrash and designate time for Torah study. That time should be fixed and one should not miss it even if one stands to earn a significant sum of money. Even one who is incapable of studying should go to the Bais HaMidrash and earn reward for going (or) [and] designate a place to study what he knows and consider his ways in order to cultivate in his heart yiras shamayim.

2. Before going to the Bais HaMidrash one may eat morning bread if he is accustomed to do so and it is proper to become accustomed to this practice.



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